The “McCain Committee” Would Be Full of NSA Defenders

Imagine a McCain Committee as the inheritor of the tradition of Frank Church and Otis Pike.

(Yes, I did that to make bmaz’ head explode.)

That seems to be what John McCain intends with his resolution calling for a Committee to Investigate the Dragnet. (h/t Steven Aftergood)

Only, McCain proposes to investigate not just whether NSA has engaged in things it was not authorized to do. But also to investigate Snowden’s leaks themselves and the potential role of contractors in making leaks more likely.

All that said, I might be excited about McCain’s proposal to review the dragnet, as described:

(3) The nature and scope of National Security Agency intelligence-collection programs, operations, and activities, including intelligence-collection programs affecting Americans, that were the subject matter of the unauthorized disclosure, including–

(A) the extent of domestic surveillance authorized by law;

(B) the legal authority that served as the basis for the National Security Agency intelligence-collection programs, operations, and activities that are the subject matter of those disclosures;

(C) the extent to which such programs, operations, and activities that were the subject matter of such unauthorized disclosures may have gone beyond what was authorized by law or permitted under the Constitution of the United States;

(D) the extent and sufficiency of oversight of such programs, operations, and activities by Congress and the Executive Branch; and

(E) the need for greater transparency and more effective congressional oversight of intelligence community activities.

There’s just one problem with McCain’s proposal.

Here’s the list of the people who would be on the Committee (he provides titles, I’m providing names):

  • Diane Feinstein
  • Saxby Chambliss
  • Carl Levin
  • Jim Inhofe
  • Tom Carper
  • Tom Coburn
  • Robert Menendez
  • Bob Corker
  • Pat Leahy
  • Chuck Grassley
  • Jello Jay Rockefeller
  • John Thune
  • A Harry Reid pick
  • A Mitch McConnell pick

There are a number of very big NSA defenders on this list — in addition to DiFi and Saxby, both Jello Jay and Coburn are Intel Committee members who have never questioned the dragnet (indeed, Coburn has called for getting rid of the controls on the phone dragnet!). Chuck Grassley, too, has generally been supportive of the dragnet in SJC hearings on the subject. Most of the rest are simply not the caliber of people who might critically assess the dragnet much less show real interest in Americans’ privacy. Only Carl Levin and Pat Leahy, alone among the 12 named members, have been explicitly skeptical of the dragnet at all.

McCain proposes a Select Committee to investigate the dragnet. And he proposes to fill it with people who are really happy with the dragnet as it currently exists.

Update: Just to give a sense of how terrible this make-up for a Select Committee is, compare it with the bipartisan list of 26 Senators who asked James Clapper for more information on other uses of Section 215 last June. Just one Senator from that list — Pat Leahy — would be on McCain’s committee.

Update: Haha! Via Matt Sledge, DiFi shot McCain’s idea down pretty quickly.

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including Vice, Motherboard, the Nation, the Atlantic, Al Jazeera, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse in Grand Rapids, MI.

17 replies
  1. joanneleon says:

    No Wyden. No Udall.

    I didn’t realize that a person proposing a new committee also gets to decide who is on that committee. Feinstein should be automatically eliminating as she is the one in the Senate obstructing any real oversight,

  2. rexFlex says:

    Fine, then have them release the CIA’s Inspector General’s report on torture first. What we don’t need is ongoing committees that don’t ever have their work show the light of day.

  3. john francis lee says:

    Even the Republicrats are fed up with the Wehrmachteers …

    GOP Congressman Hits Media For Fawning Over War Hawks On Foreign Policy

    “But I [Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA)] wish people in the media would quit focusing on … Lindsey and John McCain as spokesmens [sic] for the party, because they’re not. There’s a lot of resentment in the party that these two guys are presenting themselves as spokesmen for the Republicans and they are not spokesmen for the Republicans, they’re spokesmen for themselves — as we all have that right.”

    Our only hope seems to be that the final collapse of the economy will remove the wherewithal of the US government – in its present corrupt configuration – to continue to prosecute war and to terrorize and spy on its citizens … along with the wherewithal to do anything else … and will finally convince a critical mass of Americans that a transformative change has gotta come.

  4. orionATL says:

    this may be mccain’s idea,

    but it reeks, reeks, reeks of greasy joe liberman, the bassett hound of the senate in his inglorious time.

  5. bmaz says:

    Hahahahahahahahhahahahaha;

    Wait, WHAT?

    “All that said, I might be excited about McCain’s proposal to review the dragnet, as described”

    Uh, no. You have failed completely to ask the only question pertinent with The ‘Ole McCain Gluehorse, namely “What’s in it for John McCain?”

    In this case, it is the standard MO, just McCain being McCain and trying to glom onto the issue de jour. It is just what he does, and he is a one trick donkey.

    McCain doesn’t know NSA dragnet from Sgt. Joe Friday’s Dragnet. But he DOES know how to attention whore.

  6. ArizonaBumblebee says:

    Since we’re creating a nightmare scenario, I have only one suggestion to “improve” the proposed committee. Any Army-McCarthy type of committee needs a legal counsel comparable to Roy Cohn. Why not appoint that esteemed legal colleague, Senator Lindsey Graham, as the committee’s legal counsel. That way, he can be the point man in their relentless assault on anyone who stands in their way of gutting the Bill of Rights.

  7. GKJames says:

    McCain’s PR stunt is consistent as well as understandable from a sclerotic senator from AZ. Far more toxic substantively are the never-ending fraudulent utterances of Feinstein. Most disturbing, though, is that her obvious intellectual and moral bankruptcy is not generating material opposition from other senators. Is there really a nationwide consensus (Leahy, Widen, and Udall apart) on the workings of the national security apparatus?

  8. Frank33 says:

    Recall, the senile McCain was playing video game poker, while our leaders were supporting the Al Qaeda affiliate in Syria. Certainly most of our war profiteer leaders are insane,but warmonger McCain remains the most unbalanced of all. Still crazy after all these years he tweeted

    Scandal! Caught playing iPhone game at 3+ hour Senate hearing – worst of all I lost!

    We can depend on Aces McCain to support any war any time, especially the NSA war against the American people.

  9. ess emm says:

    @GKJames: there were the 200+ who voted for Amash-Conyers in the House. But the Senate is so regressive & reactionary. The only good Senators on this issue are Wyden, Udall, Leahy, Franken, Merkley, Paul, Sanders.

  10. GKJames says:

    @ess emm: That’s precisely what I don’t get. Yes, the Senate’s traditionally more ossified (to counterbalance an impetuous House, we’ve always been told). But unlike the many other issues dressed up as being about the Constitution, the government’s pervasive surveillance program really does go to the very core of the republic. One would think that not only would the consensus be the other way (i.e., with only 7 senators IN FAVOR of surveillance), but that there would be a legitimate, robust, and informed debate, irrespective of where one is on the political spectrum. Instead, from sea to shining sea all one hears is vacuousness, platitudes, and the classic combo of move-along-folks-nothing-to-see-here condescension on one hand and incendiary rhetoric about existential threats on the other.

    Why is this so? Sure, Feinstein — absence of intellect and principle aside — is a pathetic water-schlepper for the national security industry. She’s but one, though. What about the others? Even in a country where everything that happens in the capital is about money, that can’t be the entire explanation. Where (again but for a few) are the judges? Is ours now a culture of fear? Or is it simply the telltale sign that our society is one in which only 7 out of every 100 are serious, thoughtful people?

  11. GKJames says:

    @Cujo359: Thanks very much for this; fascinating — if depressing — confirmation that the rot is both cultural and institutional, and that the likelihood of substantive change for the better is zero. Still, it would be interesting to see the ex parte communications between, say, Clapper and Feinstein et al, if only to understand who really is overseeing whom.

  12. LeMoyne says:

    @ess emm:
    @GKJames: It is bad alright and the Senate split on these issues seems upside down. But there might be a few more than seven on the side of the Constitution.

    There are two Udalls in the Senate and, according to this scorecard at The Wire, Tom Udall (D-NM) has a perfect 5-0 record while his cousin Mark Udall (D-CO) has a 4-1 record over final votes on the Patriot Act and FISA (and FAA?). I’m sure that includes Tom Udall’s House vote against the Patriot Act. NM’s brand new junior Senator Martin Heinrich is also showing signs of life as noted right here — http://www.emptywheel.net/tag/martin-heinrich/ — especially on the issues of torture and indefinite detention. Heinrich authored the House Dems letter against the infamous 2012 NDAA sections 1023-4.

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